Top 5 Handheld GPS to keep you safe during your next adventure – 2020 Edition
This is a tough time for many, and a lot of us are looking for ways to see the great outdoors safely. This 2020 gear guide is based on information from our outdoor team and testimonials from customers using these products in a professional capacity.
When looking at hiking GPS, I usually start with the most important metrics like case design(rugged/waterproof), battery life, weight, mapping and then move on to aspects like display size, including software and unique features. You need something you can rely on to get you through low visibility trails or navigate you to a specific GPS coordinate.
Number 5 - Garmin eTrex 10
The eTrex series has been Garmin’s budget-friendly GPS device since the beginning. These units are basic and rugged by design. They’re very lightweight with small screen size and work perfectly for users who know exactly what they want out of a device. This device is not designed to be a fully-fledged navigation aid; instead it’s a great compliment to standard navigation tools. The shining feature of this device is the ‘man overboard function’ allowing you to immediately drop a waypoint with GPS coordinates on your current position. This unit also allows for paperless GEO-caching and area calculation.
The eTrex 10 has a monochrome display and the display works well both in light and shade. It doesn’t have room for topo maps but will still allow you store and mark GPS coordinates for easy routing and it can run for up to 25 hours using 2 AA batteries. If you’re looking for a slightly more powerful eTrex without going up to the price of the other GPS units on this list, then I would have a look at the eTrex 22x or 32x models, more info available here.
This unit is suitable for Hikers, Hunters and Professional Services
|Lightweight||No Topo Maps|
|Long Battery Life|
Number 4 - GPSMAP 78
The GPSMAP 78 is a versatile GPS unit as it is designed for both on land and off land use. While the other devices on this list (excluding the eTrex10) can read marine maps, the GPSMAP 78 is designed specifically for Marine use. In terms of software functionality, it's very close to the GPSMAP 64SX listed below just wrapped in a different hardware design (it doesn't come preloaded with Topo Maps though). This means you will still get all the standard GPS functions for navigation like trac back, man overboard, area calculation, waypoint navigation and more. However, this model does not have the ABC (Altimeter, Barometer, Compass) sensors. If you require those sensors, then the GPSMAP 78s might be the better option for you.
The GPSMAP 78 is $299 RRP and available here from an Australian Store - This is an older unit so you should be able to pick it up for less than RRP.
The 78 can float with an IPX7 waterproof rating and has mounting options designed to easily attach to kayaks and boats it also allows you to eliminate some of the land-based map data.
This unit is suitable for Hikers, Hunters, Marine Users and Professional Services
|Waterproof and Sunlight Readable Display||No Preloaded Maps|
|Button Functionality||No sensors on base model|
|Marine only display options|
Number 3 - GPSMAP 64SX
The GPSMAP 64 series has been the poster boy for Garmin’s handhelds for years. While it’s no longer the ultimate handheld, it’s still up there as one of the best units to cover everything. There are a couple of different GPSMAP 64 models with the main difference being that the other model comes with a camera and the model below this one doesn’t come with additional sensors. More information available here.
The GPSMAP 64SX comes preloaded with topographic maps and allows for routable guidance along some of Australia’s most well-known trails. You can also download additional trails via GPX file import if you know exactly how you want to follow along.
Another big drawcard to this model is that it has GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite network support. This means you have the best chance possible to gain and maintain satellite signal strength quickly. The 64SX also has a 3-axis compass built-in alongside a Barometric Altimeter. The barometric altimeter is useful to a lot of expert hikers to give themselves weather warnings. We’ve written a guide on how to use the barometric altimeter to predict incoming storms here.
This model is favoured for a couple of reasons, firstly it's button operated and also comes with a couple of nifty dedicated button options. The first is the mark command that instantly drops at your current location with your GPS coordinates. This is a must have feature for a lot of surveying teams or even regular users who want to be able to quickly and easily mark different locations on their map.
This unit is suitable for hikers, hunters, professional services, climbers, marine users
|Accepts AA Batteries for easy backups||A little slow for typing and screen menus|
|Preloaded with Topo Active Maps|
Number 2 - Montana 680t
The Montana 680t is the a feature packed handheld GPS unit, only beaten out by the GPSMAP 66i in terms of functionality and features on this list. It comes with an 8GB internal memory that can be used for more mapping options and to store more waypoints, favourites and locations. The Montana 680t can store up to 10,000 points, 250 individual routes and has the capacity for 20,00 points on a track with up to 250 saved tracks. This is the handheld to go for if you have plenty of your custom tracks/routes and special waypoint locations.
Obviously, with this information, you would want a reasonably accurate topographical map to go with it, and the Montana 680t comes preloaded with full TOPO maps. It also has an inbuilt 8MP Camera which you can tag the location and save it as a waypoint that you can later use the device to navigate to. My problem with the Montana 680t is that it’s quite an expensive unit that suffers from the almost awkwardly large size, you can’t store it in a pocket easily, and the touchscreen can be challenging to use in certain environmental conditions.
This unit is suitable for hikers, hunters, professional services, climbers
|Preloaded Topo Maps||Heavy and Bulky|
|Long Battery Life||Touchscreen can be difficult|
|Large Display for Mapping information|
|Sunlight Readable Display|
Number 1 - GPSMAP 66i
The GPSMAP 66i is the latest model on this list to be released by Garmin. It comes with almost all the features mentioned in the previous units but also allows for 2-way satellite messaging (with an active subscription). It also comes with the ability to download satellite imagery without needing to purchased an annual subscription to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery. Just to be clear on this you can’t download satellite imagery in the field, you need to download the images to your computer via Basecamp then upload them to your GPSMAP 66i which will overlay these images onto your map display.
Interestingly from reviews we’ve received on this product and our personal use one of the favourite features is the weather alerts accessible on this device. If you pair this device to your phone, you will receive automatic weather updates. Outside of a cell tower, you can request updated weather forecasts via your InReach Satellite subscription either to your current position, waypoint or destinations on your route. This is an extremely handy feature to have when out in the field.
This unit is the Swiss army knife of GPS handhelds, with multi-GNSS support, ABC (Altimeter, Barometric, Compass) sensors, Satellite imagery, Satellite Communication and Preloaded Topo maps it will lessen the weight in your pack by replacing most of what’s inside.
|Preloaded Topo Maps||2-Way Satellite Messaging requires an ongoing subscription|
|Satellite Imagery Overlays (No Subscription Required)|
|2-Way Satellite Messaging|
The Rino 700 is not a handheld GPS rather it’s a UHF radio. Depending on what you’re doing off grid then it could be a very useful tool. It is an extremely popular device for teams that need to stay in contact in the bush. This two-way radio has a large antenna for transmitting on a UHF radio which can also be used to send your location to any of your friends using a Rino device. This device also works with your Bluetooth enabled headsets.
Software Features Comparison
|eTrex 10||GPSMAP 64SX||GPSMAP 78||Montana 680t||GPSMAP 66i|
|Weight||141.7g (with Lithium-ion battery pack)||230g (with batteries)||260.1g (with AA batteries)||289g with batters||230g (with batteries)|
|Battery Life||Up to 25 hours (AA batteries)||Up to 16 hours||Up to 20 hours||Up to 16 hours||Up to 35 hours at 10-minute tracking|
Up to 200 hours at 30-minute tracking (power save mode)
|Mapping||N/A||Topo active Mapping (routable)||Worldwide Basemap (No TOPO maps)||Preloaded with Full Topo Maps AU/NZ||Topo active Mapping (routable)|
|Display||3.6 x 4.3 cm||3.6 x 5.5 cm||4.1 x 5.6 cm||5.06 x 8.93cm||3.8cm x 6.3cm|
|2-Way Satellite Messaging||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Digital Compass||No||Yes (tilt-compensated, 3-axis)||No||Yes||Yes|